While Occupy D.C. protesters struggled to recover after their encampments were cleared in high-profile raids early this month, Prince George’s resident Bertina Jones was fighting an eviction of her own.
On Monday, an hour after Occupy D.C. organized a noisy rally on Jones’s behalf in front of Freddie Mac’s offices on Seventh Street NW, a spokesman for the government-backed mortgage giant said the company was working toward a “positive resolution” that would allow her to keep her home. Brad German, a spokesman for Freddie Mac, said that the company decided to work with Jones because of the merits of her case and that the rally had little effect on the decision.
Nonetheless, the speed and the swiftness of the response startled even the Occupiers. “It shows we’re having an impact,” said organizer Mike Haack, 29, a freelance writer. “It’s definitely a positive step.”
But Haack said they are waiting until the ink is dry on the agreement to celebrate the victory, which, if realized, would be one of the first concrete gains of the local movement, now in its fifth month.
In the days since the U.S. Park Police descended on McPherson Square in the pre-dawn hours and cleared the park of dozens of tents, other equipment and debris, many Occupiers were left wondering what would come next.
Dozens dispersed to havens throughout the city, including friend’s couches and beds at local churches. They still have their general assembly meetings in the park — where they can maintain “symbolic” tents but cannot camp — but they also meet in coffee shops and at the Radical Space — a collective devoted to activism in Petworth.
Without the park as a hub, communication has become more difficult, organizers say, and the future sometimes hazy.
“I think that Occupy 2.0 is about bringing the movement to the people, and the best way to do that is through the neighborhoods,” said Ben Zucker, 23, a grocery store worker and a former McPherson Square camper. He moved into his parents’ basement after the raid and has launched an Occupy Montgomery County group there.
In that way, Occupy D.C. is following an arc similar to those observed in other cities. In New York, Occupy Wall Street protesters, evicted from Zuccotti Park, are working in smaller groups, doing foreclosure actions and preparing for larger protests in the spring, including actions planned during the Group of Eight economic summit in Chicago in May.
An Occupy D.C. encampment at Freedom Plaza was also raided this month. It, too, still has tents on site for symbolic purposes, while the protesters have moved elsewhere to prepare for spring events.
Occupiers chose Jones to rally behind after discussions with staffers at Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau, where Vicki King Taitano, who directs the bureau’s foreclosure legal assistance project, has championed Jones’s case for months. “This is a perfect example of a woman who was making her payments, and they still foreclosed on her,” Taitano said.
Jones, a grandmother and accountant, lost her Bowie home in 2010 after a months-long struggle with Bank of America, although she has managed to stave off eviction for now. Jones began making payments under the terms of a mortgage modification in 2009, but the bank repeatedly lost the accompanying documents, according to Taitano. Freddie Mac, which has its headquarters in McLean, bought the home at a 2010 foreclosure sale.
Jones, who can’t afford a private attorney, said she has been working on her own for months — heading to the law library, making repeated calls and sending e-mails — to try and resolve the situation. It has taken a toll, she said.
“It’s very stressful,” Jones said. “I’m always tired, and the worry is a lot of weight on me.”
After working on her own for so long, she said it was “great” to rally with supporters outside the Freddie Mac government relations offices Monday. The 50 or so Occupier protesters marched in a circle around her, chanting “housing is a right” as she clutched a sign that said “Stop Foreclosures and Evictions Now.”
Jones said she was waiting to consult with Taitano before signing any proposal, but she said she hoped everything would be resolved soon. “I’m glad I stood up and fought,” Jones said. “I hope more homeowners will join us. I’m not an icon, I’m just a homeowner trying to save her home.”